We were on a game drive following the Shingwedzi River towards the Kanniedod dam in the Kruger National Park on 5 October 2017. About four km after leaving the Shingwedzi rest camp we spotted a group of lions feeding on a greater kudu that appeared to have been killed earlier that morning. It was 08:30 hours.
There were ten lions, two adult males, on one young male and seven adult females. They were feeding on the opposite bank of the river. Although the latter was open sand banks with scattered bushes, our visibility was rather limited by the dense vegetation on our side. As we were alone -a rare occurrence- we drove up and down the river trying to get a good view. All we managed to find was a rather narrow gap in the vegetation and from there we watched.
At exactly 08:45 hours (we know the exact times because of the pictures’ information) four lionesses were feeding on the kill while the remaining members of the pride were nearby, either a few metres away or up on the river bank. We also noted that there were three adult buffalo about 50 metres towards the right of the lions. They were not grazing, just watching them.
Suddenly, one of the buffalo rushed towards the lions at speed and charged the group scattering them in all directions.
Through the dust I saw the buffalo head-butting something on the ground and my first thought was that it had got one of the lions! However, as the situation became clearer, I could see that it was in fact violently thrashing the greater kudu carcass!
The buffalo clobbered the carcass for a few seconds while the lions run away and then stopped and watched the buffalo. A second buffalo arrived to the scene but it did not join the first at the carcass.
Then, the third buffalo appeared and the trio stood at the site for a while before moving off to the other side of the carcass to a distance of about 30 metres.
Two minutes later the lions started to come back and resumed feeding, still being watched by the buffalo, now from the left of the pictures.
Once the buffalo cleared off, the lions returned to the kill and fed for about half an hour.
Then, when everything appeared quiet, a second buffalo charge took place!
This time the buffalo seemed satisfied scattering the lions and it did not interfere with the carcass.
After this second interaction the three buffalo turned their attention towards the various lions and proceeded to chase them and flash them out from the various locations they chose to hide.
After about one hour of this confrontation one of the lionesses moved off and walked about two hundred metres towards a pool in the river and, after drinking its fill, hid herself under some bushes, clearly fed up with the buffalo!
By about 11:00 hours the contest was over and the buffalo moved away leaving the lions undisturbed either singly or in small groups at various places along the river. When we returned before sunset a group of lions was resting on the riverbed but the buffalo were no longer in the area and, by the following morning. there were no signs of the lions or the carcass but some buffalo were still in the area.
We always learn from these kind of observations and I believe that there are a few issues of interest. The first is that at no time the lions attempted to confront or retaliate against the buffalo despite the size of the pride. This is probably explained either by not being hungry (as they had fed on the grater kudu) and/or being aware that the strong buffalo were a dangerous prey.
The second is the clear and understandable adverse reaction of the buffalo against the lions that they perceive as a danger and did not wish to have in their territory.
The most puzzling observation relates to the buffalo behaviour towards the carcass. It is possible that, unable to retaliate against the lions, the buffalo’s anger was expressed against what they perceived as associated with the predators. Of course we cannot rule out that some other reason sight- or smell-related triggered this conduct.
Perhaps readers with more experience on animal behaviour would like to comment on this and put forward a better explanation?